The Indiana Gazette published what may be Andrew Smith’s last Captain Comics column, as he appears to be retiring from his pseudo-profession after 3 decades he’d been writing it. The puff piece begins like this:
As the new year launches, we inherit what is to me a still surprising world in entertainment.
A world where “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is setting box office records right and left. Where sci-fi, fantasy and comic book properties dominate the small screen, from South Korea’s “Silent Sea” on Netflix to “Book of Boba Fett” on Disney+ to “Walking Dead” on AMC to superhero and “Star Trek” marathons on BBC America. Where Marvel and DC comics characters dominate everything from toys to children’s clothing.
But not the comics. And this all fails to acknowledge something making the ostensible domination of pop culture less to be enthused about: how social justice propaganda took over much of entertainment in the past decade or so. All sorts of ideologies that stand in complete contradiction to what the original products did. Yet he says we “inherit”? I’m sorry. It’s just not working that way. Because the conglomerates hold all the cards, enabling/subjecting the products to political correctness. When Smith talks about the evolution of science fiction by the 1950s, he says:
If you were a genre fan, there simply wasn’t much to choose from. Somehow it became accepted wisdom in Hollywood that science fiction was box office poison, so all we had were giant-insect movies from the ’50s, Godzilla imports and the occasional Hammer horror film. The era of Universal Classic Monsters movies was long gone, though you could see the occasional 3 a.m. rerun if you were lucky enough to live in a city with a 24/7 TV station.
Oh, I don’t think that was necessarily the case. In those early cinematic eras, special effects – such as they were – weren’t as advanced as they became in later years, and the best technology to convey them hadn’t been developed yet. Animation to convey laser beams was about the best you could really hope for. What did provide an advantage, however, was that, in those early decades, most filmmakers relied on talented performances, and a sense of excitement through good scripting and direction. Something increasingly lacking in the recent decade, where the concept of major stars carrying the film has been less emphasized.
Speaking of TV, it wasn’t much help, either. You could catch the occasional “Twilight Zone” or “Outer Limits” rerun. I suppose Saturday afternoon Tarzan movies and reruns of “Wizard of Oz” counted. Mostly, though, you had to settle for funny fantasy like “Bewitched,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “My Favorite Martian.”
There were occasional gifts to us fans, like “Batman” (1966-68), “Lost in Space” (1965-68), “Land of the Giants” (1968-70), “The Time Tunnel” (1966-67) and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1964-68). As you can see from the dates, none lasted very long.
“Star Trek” (1966-68) came and went so fast it made it into syndication by the skin of its tribbles, and spawned only four books in the next few years. (“Making of Star Trek,” “Spock Must Die,” “Trouble with Tribbles” and “World of Star Trek” — and yes, I had them all.)
Say, seeing he mentioned I Dream of Jeannie, I wonder if somebody who previously complained about “toxic masculinity” thinks that’s “sexist”, considering there were people who thought that way about the fantasy sitcom in later years, based on Jeannie’s subserviance, though Barbara Eden did insist it wasn’t. Smith’s citation of the notable TV sitcom from 1965-70, sans any complaints, sure does sound like an absurd contradiction of his previous, extremely reprehensible declaration for Top Gun, no matter how innocuous the show was, and Eden’s character did defy her “master” at times. Also, if memory serves, the original Trek lasted three seasons until 1969, not two as he makes it look like here. And did it ever occur to him the not very adult approach in Irwin Allen’s 4 sci-fi series didn’t hold up well with an audience that was hoping for adventures with more intelligent themes, like Star Trek offered? Guess not. There’s a reason why the Trek franchise retained more longevity with sci-fi buffs, while Allen’s productions never retained the kind of popularity to be remade successfully in later decades.
In fact, Smith doesn’t even bother to lament how US animation was kept almost entirely relegated to children’s status for many years, nor does he complain how a lot of Japanese offerings broadcast in the USA were subject to censorship in the process until the mid-90s, recalling several of the earliest ones I’d seen, like Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Warring Demon GoShogun, Armored Fleet Dairugger XV and Super Dimension Fortress Macross were heavily edited in their time. While animator Ralph Bakshi did have some success with X-rated cartoons like Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, adult animation did not catch on in the 1970s, and it took until the 90s before there was some success, though with the way the Simpsons is going today, you can only wonder if it was worth it.
Of course, there were other books that explored the fantastic. Books that I lovingly called the “Nerd Canon.” These were books I felt you had to read to achieve Geek Street cred.
In the 1960s, the Canon included “1984,” “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Jungle Book,” “Metamorphosis,” “The Screwtape Letters,” Snorri Sturluson’s “Elder Eddas” and “Poetic Eddas,” Greco-Roman mythology and L. Frank Baum’s Oz books.
It also included anything by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Robert E. Howard, Ursula K. LeGuin, Fritz Lieber, H.P. Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Allan Poe, E.E. “Doc” Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, A.E. van Vogt, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Some of it wasn’t aging well at the time (looking at you, Lensman series), and some has aged poorly since (ugh, Heinlein). Yes, I read every single book those folks wrote that I could find. And pretty much anything else with a ray gun, a sword, a femme fatale or a Frank Frazetta cover.
But that was words on paper. If you wanted to see action and color combined with unbridled fantasy and serious sci-fi, there was only one place to go: comic books.
They hadn’t made it to the ’60s unscathed — I’m thinking primarily of the draconian Comics Code of 1954, which bowdlerized them thoroughly — but by 1965 the superheroes of Marvel and DC proudly ruled funnybooks, abetted by a healthy supporting cast of war, teen humor, suspense, science fiction and, inescapably, Westerns.
Not that there weren’t land mines all around the local spinner rack. Buying, holding or reading comics made you a target of bullies. Parents, preachers and politicians sneered at them, scapegoating comics for all manner of social ills. And they were a near-certain path to eternal virginity.
Guess what? Little has changed today, seeing how fandom has been attacked by the loons now running the asylum for daring to protest any tasteless deconstruction of the classic creations and what made them work in the first place. Joe Quesada was an early example of somebody pushing in that direction, when he set about removing the Spider-marriage with Mary Jane Watson. And all the while, the MSM just shrugged it off, never recommended a boycott of Marvel for the artistic disasters they were crafting, and never asked that Quesada be taken off the company payroll. Nor did they ever ask the damage be reversed, not even what Brian Bendis wrought with his ill-treatment of Scarlet Witch.
The anti-Comicsgate smears didn’t help matters either. Oh, and did I mention all the modern issues with censorship? Reminds me that Smith has some responsibility to shoulder in that and cancel culture, after he threw J. Scott Campbell under the bus several years ago, all over Wonder Woman’s costume(!), giving a strong hint he has no genuine respect for William Marston and H.G. Peter’s viewpoints. By that logic, there was no reason for a major movie, as was seen nearly 5 years ago. What’s he trying to prove about censorship, if he’s got such a hypocritical stance on it?
The upsides, aside from entertainment, was that I learned to read from comic books before school, so I was already ahead of the class in speed and comprehension — even spelling and grammar — like forever. I learned Shakespeare and Bible quotes from Marvel’s Stan Lee, and science facts from DC. (Thanks, “Flash” comics, for the speed of light. Thanks, “Metal Men,” for the melting point of lead.)
What he didn’t learn – or vehemently refused to – was being selfless and honest. Otherwise, he’d have defended WW’s aforementioned bustier, and not gone against Campbell in the process. And he wouldn’t have sensationalized Identity Crisis as he did almost 2 decades ago. Virtue-signalers don’t make the best conveyors of the positives for comicdom when they’ve got so much past hypocrisy they’re only bound to continue today.
When “Star Wars” came out in 1977, I expected something cheesy, probably involving giant insects. And honestly, when I saw it, I was smugly aware of its inspirations: Western and Flash Gordon serials, 1940s dogfight footage, “Dune” (for spice, sand people and sandworms) and Jack Kirby comics (for Darth Vader, Boba Fett’s helmet and the Force).
Nevertheless, it was a breath of fresh air — and a godsend to us non-mundanes. Its success kicked the door open for everything genre fans enjoy. Suddenly, sci-fi was no longer box office poison, and everybody wanted to jump on the bantha-wagon.
“Superman: The Movie” arrived in 1978. Paramount dusted off that old failure “Star Trek” in 1979. “Batman” followed in 1989. “X-Men” in 2000. “Spider-Man” in 2002. Then “Iron Man” exploded the box office, creating the tidal wave of content that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not to mention all the TV shows, books, magazines, merch and more that made these properties household words.
By the time SW was made, special effects technology was more advanced, making it easier to convey the elements desired. But while SW did indeed encourage more investment in the science-fantasy genre over the next decades, the components it was built on are exactly why it’s not necessarily the best omen in the long run. Let’s also consider some of the movies that went on to see sequels, like Superman, struck serious potholes and their fortunes were reversed pretty quickly, recalling the catastrophes of Superman III, Supergirl and Superman IV: the Quest for Peace.
Even Batman’s initial success ultimately wore off the same way, as the 4th movie directed by Joel Schumacher was considered the least successful, both artistically and financially. By the time that was made, it wasn’t enough for a blockbuster to gross over $100 million when the marketing and promotion ensures it’ll cost a lot more. And then, look how the recent, Disney-financed sequels to SW have pretty much dampened its impact, as the 3rd wound up the least successful at the box office, soaked as they were with PC/woke elements. Something the Marvel movie machine is now becoming affected by, and it made the Eternals one of the least successful entries to boot. Even DC’s not immune, as Batman vs. Superman hints. It’s one thing to tell how great early pop culture phenomena is, but another to throughly ignore how modern takes on the properties have made a farce out of everything.
Mon-El, an obscure character known only to “Legion of Super-Heroes” readers for three decades, got an action figure in the ’90s and a supporting role on “Supergirl” in the aughts. Black Adam — a character from the ’40s that even I had never heard of until the ’70s — is about to get his own movie.
We are now in an age wherein every single one of my private enthusiasms in the ’60s is now popular. Even the unbelievably unfilmable “Foundation” is getting filmed. My jam is now everybody’s jam.
And this obscures the leftist ideologies now being forced into these live action programs, at the expense of creations he obviously doesn’t have much faith in to start with, if he sees nothing detrimental with injecting far-left agendas and ideologies into their narratives. “Unfilmable” indeed. And is it really “his” jam if he’s perfectly comfortable with souring it in a sea of wokeness? But now, here comes the interesting part of this whole puff piece:
Which brings me to my point. And yes, I have one.
I started this column 30 years ago exactly, in the first week of January in 1992. At the time, it was a Q&A for all the former mundies who were quickly joining my neck of the entertainment forest, but had questions. And oh, they had questions.
Then came the internet.
It existed in 1992, of course, but not a whole lot of people were online yet.
And I was already doing a Q&A there, too, on a website that continues to this day. And I was doing yet another in the Comics’ Buyer’s Guide monthly magazine.
But eventually everyone could Google what they wanted to know, and all my columns morphed into other animals. I’ve continued to do them faithfully (except CBG, which went belly up a few years ago). Even as my newsfeed has begun filling up with other, younger folks doing the same thing.
Well, then. I’ve … won? Comics are acceptable now?
Probably not, but I’ll take what I can get. And I’ll take this too: a life without a weekly routine of doing research, writing 1,000 words and pulling art. That’s right: I’m retiring this column.
No kidding. Well, he won’t be missed. Amazing he at least half admits comics, despite all the suggestions to the contrary, still aren’t acceptable, nor is animation…except as a propaganda tool aimed at children, recalling the Arthur embarrassment. Despite what the success of the Simpsons might suggest, the cartoon medium, alas, a close cousin to comicdom, just like video games, is still not embraced coast to coast, across the board as something appealing to adults in every sense in the USA, unlike over in Japan, where it’s been taken more seriously, and even in Europe, it gets more appreciation than what you see in the USA. So…what’s Smith’s point? He doesn’t have one. Not a good one anyway.
So this is going to be Smith’s last Captain Comics column? If so, that’ll be one less propagandist in the MSM to worry about, one who dumbs down news coverage for the sake of political correctness. Almost a dozen years ago, another one working at the Colorado Springs Gazette stopped plying his trade, and rarely ever seemed to address the medium since. I vaguely recall another one who’d written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who may have retired in the past decade. Those who won’t be honest, objective and selfless, who won’t question whether jarring violence and far-left ideologies have devastated storytelling and art, have no business commenting on the medium news if that’s how they’re going to approach the topic. They’re part and parcel of the reason why mainstream comics owned by conglomerates became so bad in the past 2 decades, and they don’t seem very sorry about it. The less of these real life J. Jonah Jameson equivalents, the better. Indeed, Spidey’s media-based adversary is the role model they go by, as is Bethany Snow in the Teen Titans franchise.
Originally published here.